Book Review: Last Child in the Woods

last child in the woods book coverLast Child in the Woods Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

By Richard Louv

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006

Over the last 30 years the relationship that children have with the natural world has changed dramatically. The divide that has formed between children and the outdoors and the environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual implications caused by this divide, is the subject of this book by Richard Louv. Last Child In the Woods combines research, interviews with children and professionals and anecdotal stories to demonstrate that contact with nature is necessary for healthy child (and adult) development. The author draws links between the lack of nature in the lives of today’s wired generation with the rise of childhood obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression. Louv argues that it is in our best interest, as well as in the best interest of children today to re-create the bond between child and nature. How today’s children respond to nature and how they raise their own children will shape the future of our environment, our cities, our homes and our daily lives.

Louv’s message struck a cord with me because the time I spent outside as a child has profoundly shaped my life and has served as the basis for all of the major choices I have made including where I live and what I do both professionally and recreationally. I would be a different person had I not spent as much time out side as a child. Nature remains for me a place of refuge, a place where I feel free from my troubles and a place that sparks my creativity. The question I pose after reading this book is; how can we as designers create spaces that can bridge the growing divide between child and nature and engage a generation of children who have been raised in a digital world?

3 Comments

  1. Thanks Jen I think this is an important issue as well. My son who is now 16 and I have had many discussions on this topic. He gets frustrated with friends who all they want to do is sit inside and play computer games. I am thankful I refrained from buying all the electronic gadgets over the years and got my kids out hiking, to the zoo and skiing. Even simple things like crawdad fishing and skipping rocks close to home. There are so many places within our cities to take our children out for these valuable learning experiences and as a professional its been exciting to be a part of it all. It takes a great deal of effort on the parents part to put aside the chores and errands and get outside to discover and play!

  2. I agree, most kids today don’t know what they are missing. When I was growing up in Pennsylvania, we never stayed inside unless it was below 0 and snowing. My grandfather’s back yard was huge and mostly garden. In his native Sicily, he was a tree splicer, and grew a 1/2 pear, 1/2 apple tree in his yard. That was a “wow” moment for us kids. Sicilians eat mostly vegetables and fish, so his garden held all types of vegetables and fed the household for many, many years. I remember him digging a big hole, and us kids taking out the table scraps and dumping them into the hole. The following season, we’d have potatoes and canteloupe and watermelons growing. It was an amazing experience for me.
    My aunt & uncle lived next door, and my uncle had the greenest thumb I have ever seen. If it had roots, he could grow it. He would mix up his magic dirt concoction, and throw seeds into it, and we’d watch them grow. His entire office area was wall to wall plants, some very rare. He had 2 giant gardenia bushes on pedestals, that we always lingered by because of the fragrance. Those times were very precious, and the most memorable times of my life. It helped me form a love and respect for the earth and nature. Perhaps that is the main reason why I would rather spend time in my back yard digging in the dirt than any other place in the world.

  3. I think we need a mass resurgence of Girl Scout troops and Boy Scout troops. Perhaps parents think them too plebeian in today’s world, but 3-4 years in a troop and believe me, you learn more than how to hike a trail and build a campfire, and somewhere along the way establish a life long love of nature. I wonder if the local boy scout/girl scout camps that are active could use some pro bono help with trails, or maybe some one day seminar discussions at local schools – elementary level – to spike a child’s interest. Landscape Architects have so much to offer the world – you need to scream it from the rooftops!

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